COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan government on Monday said it has started the process of paying compensation to local fishermen affected by the fire aboard a Singapore-flagged container ship that was carrying tonnes of hazardous chemicals and sank off the country's coast.
MV X-Press Pearl was carrying 1,486 containers of chemicals and cargo when it went up in flames on May 21 near the Colombo Port.
The Sri Lankan Navy, Airforce and the Indian Coast Guard jointly doused the fire in an operation that took days.
However, the ship sank off Colombo's coast on June 17.
The state minister of fisheries, Kanchana Wijesekera, said the payment for the compensation has been made possible by an interim claim laid on the insurance company of the ship's owners.
The local fishermen's activities were badly affected since May 20, in addition to the environmental damage.
Our interim claim was in respect of expenditure incurred by state agencies in rescue work and assessing the damage, Wijesekera told reporters here.
He said out of the LKR 720 million (USD 40 million) to be received under the interim claim, LKR 420 million (USD 21,12,231) would be utilised to compensate the fishermen.
Following the cargo ship blaze, the fisheries ministry halted fishing activities around the Colombo port and the western shore line as tonnes of waste -- plastic and chemical material -- started floating in the sea water.
An estimated number of 20,000 people from fishermen families have been affected by the fishing ban.
Apart from the 325 metric tonnes of fuel in its tanks, the ship was loaded with 25 tonnes of hazardous nitric acid.
A large number of sea animals, including whales and turtles, died due to the disaster which environmentalists have dubbed as one the worst ecological disasters in the country's history.
Meanwhile, Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) Chairman Darshani Lahandapura said a minimum three-month period would be required to completely assess the damage caused by the ship's fire.
The Indian Navy last month deployed its hydrographic survey ship INS Sarvekshak to carry out survey operations to help Lanka restore the safety of navigation of marine traffic through the Colombo port.
A UN team of oil spill and chemical experts deployed mid-June are still working on the impact assessment of threats to livelihood and lives of the population in coastal areas, Lahandapura said.
Their report would be used by the authorities to make its final claim for compensation.